What is an ABC Behavior Chart?

An ABC behavior chart is an observation tool that helps to understand the causes of behavior that may present as challenging by recording what happened before, during, and after the behavior. It helps teachers, parents, and careers track children and pupils’ behaviors.

Separating observations into these three categories can be useful in understanding what certain behaviors are linked to or triggered by. It can help us to understand why particular behaviors are taking place. It can even suggest more effective interventions and care.

An ABC behavior chart forms part of an evidence-based strategy that helps to understand behavior and assess the effectiveness of the strategies in place by addressing both antecedents and consequences.

What does ABC stand for in challenging behavior?

When discussing difficult behavior, the individual letters of ABC stand for Antecedents (or Action), Behavior, and Consequence:

  • Antecedents (or Action): what Action or event occurred before a behavior of interest occurred. This might be hunger, tiredness, or particular triggers.
  • Behavior: a description of the behavior itself, which includes what happened, what was said, for how long, and how intense.
  • Consequence: what took place following the behavior. For example, whether the child withdrew from an activity, experienced sensory stimulation, or someone reacted to the behavior.

The information recorded in the Antecedent Behavior Consequence model can help us work out patterns of behavior. It can therefore be used to develop more effective management of that behavior.

How do you use an ABC Behavior Chart?

Using an ABC behavior chart involves recording what happened before a behavior occurred, the behavior itself, and what happened after it occurred. These are the ABCs of antecedent, behavior, and consequence described above.

Consequences can also serve as antecedents to another behavior (for example, a sanction from an adult may escalate the behavior). If so, they can be recorded on a chart as ‘Consequence’ on one row and ‘Antecedent’ on the next row.

An ABC behavior chart can be used as part of a functional behavior assessment, in which specialists can help to address the behavior of children with special educational needs and disabilities when the behavior is causing harm or distress to themselves or others.

They’re valuable for people who have difficulty expressing themselves. For these individuals, behavior may be how they’ve chosen to articulate and communicate their needs. When using an ABC chart, it is important to focus on understanding the underlying cause of the child’s behavior and address this (for example, they may be overwhelmed by sensory input or unable to communicate their needs). They can also be useful in assessing the effectiveness of the child’s consequences.

Appropriate behavior to consider in an ABC Behavior Chart

Try to be specific when you are recording behavior in an ABC chart. Behavior is the Action that a child takes in response to something.

Behavior can often be categorized within one of these 4 functions:

  1. Sensory
  2. Escape
  3. Attention
  4. Tangible

You can use these functions to help you record the behavior you observe.

For example, a child that exhibits disruptive behavior because it rewards them with a toy or food is displaying behavior with a ‘tangible’ function because it results in access to a specific thing.

What are examples of Antecedents and Consequences in an ABC Chart?

Here are some appropriate antecedents and consequences you can consider as part of your observation.


  • Praise
  • Being asked to change activity
  • Group work
  • Being told ‘no.’
  • Sensory stimulation, such as loud noise and bright light
  • Playing without guidance
  • Comment from another child
  • Lack of attention from teacher or peers
  • Hunger
  • Energy levels and time of day
  • Medication
  • Disruption of routine
  • Family events
  • Specific person present


  • Praise
  • Reassurance
  • Time out or calm down time

When should I use an ABC Behavior Chart?

An ABC analysis can be useful when you want to understand the behavior of children with special educational needs, learning difficulties, or Autistic. You can fill in an ABC behavior chart as part of an informal analysis of a certain child’s behavior at any time.

Try to clearly define the behavior rather than vague descriptions. This will make it much easier to draw patterns from your observations.

You should also be aware that your conclusions may not be totally reliable. You may be able to draw useful conclusions from the patterns you observe, but they may not always be clear, and factors that you may not be aware of could be causing distress or discomfort for the child. You may be unable to correctly identify a given behavior’s antecedents.

What is the history of ABC Behavior Charts?

ABC behavior charts were developed in response to a need for improved tracking behavior. The ABC method was first described by Sidney Bijou in 1968, but the idea of separating behavior into antecedents, behaviors, and consequences emerged much earlier within the behavioral psychology of the 20th century.

Here psychologists made links between behavior preceded by Action or trigger and the consequences of that behavior.

In his studies of operant conditioning, psychologist B.F. Skinner explored how human behavior could be described by examining the causes and effects of intentional behavior. Operant conditioning suggests that learned behaviors can be encouraged with positive reinforcement or discouraged by withholding positive reinforcement or applying punishment.

ABC charts have been associated with ABA (applied behavior analysis). ABA is widely condemned by the Autistic community, and The Edvocate does not recommend that they are used in this context. ABC charts can be used to better understand the triggers that may be distressing or uncomfortable for children and young people.


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